In the video for her newest single “Levels,” UK R&B artist Shaé Universe dresses up like the greats Beyonce, Aaliyah, Rihana, Missy Elliot, Grace Jones, Erykah Badu and more. The scenes are nostalgic and flashy and the whole thing looked like a ton of fun to put together, but that’s not the point.
“Levels” is Shaé Universe’s one-woman ode to the influential Black female musicians who came before her, and in the context of the very much ongoing BLM movement, it’s a piece of impeccably-timed art.
The Nigerian-born singer-songwriter caught our attention before with her almost therapeutic sounds on tracks like “No Stallin,” but today she’s putting forth a more political vibe. Right place, right time, right music video.
“Contrary to speculation, the song ‘Levels’ actually isn't about a guy,” the artist tells Complex via e-mail. “Levels was written as a reminder to all that you are enough and are capable of consistent elevation. It’s so easy, especially being a Black woman in the UK music industry, to feel overlooked and underappreciated, resulting in fleeting confidence and self-doubt."
Shaé explains that when producer SUNSET DRVER first sent her the beat for the song, "I was feeling a type of way about some bitchy behaviour I'd observed amongst industry individuals... It made me question what was real and my ability to navigate through all the noise in the industry. That then led me to question how the greats before me did it. I still can't provide a straightforward answer to that, but the outstanding thing to me was that they did it, meaning it's doable. This realization gave me hope and fueled me with the energy behind this song. "
In the video for “Levels"—which was actually conceived by the artist’s younger sister—Universe takes a direct approach to her homage, literally imitating some of her idols’ most iconic looks. One moment she has the long nails and borderline goth look of Grace Jones, the next she’s dressed like an early-aughts Missy Elliot in over-the-top glasses and a puffer jacket.
“I couldn’t include all the icons I had in mind due to time constraints, but during my research period leading up to the video shoot I felt so empowered recounting all the beautiful queens that impacted the music or fashion industry in one way or another,” she says. “It made me love and appreciate myself more.”
Us too, tbh.